CBS' coverage of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Men's Basketball Tournament is approximately 90 percent sold out at prices that are roughly in line with last year, said John Bogusz, executive vp, sales, CBS Sports.
New advertisers this year include Charles Schwab, Hershey and Audi. Liberty Mutual, a sponsor last year, is not returning.
Bogusz said this year's televised tournament coverage, scheduled to begin March 19, is commanding roughly the same pricing as last year, although some buyers are reporting price hikes of 2-3 percent, depending on the package. The total volume of network sales is expected to be about even with last year at about $430 million.
"Overall I'd say pricing is relatively flat," Bogusz said.
A 30-second spot in the Final Four and championship games is priced between $1.3 and $1.4 million, while spots in earlier rounds are going for about $350,000, similar to last year's prices, buyer sources confirm. Bogusz wouldn't confirm dollar figures.
General Motors, Coca-Cola and AT&T return as top-tier sponsors of the telecast. GM, which bowed out of this year's Super Bowl and Oscars' telecasts, struck a multiyear NCAA sponsorship deal several years ago. According to TNS Media Intelligence, GM was the biggest spender in the tournament for the five years through 2007, spending an average of $70 million annually.
Second-tier sponsors, at a lower level of spending commitment than the top tier, include Enterprise, the car rental company, Hartford Insurance, Lowe's, State Farm Insurance and Starwood Hotels. Sharing the beer category are returnees MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch.
Generally, stronger categories in this year's tourney include movies and fast foods, said Bogusz, while auto is essentially flat and financial is down.
Buyers said that CBS is in pretty good shape, given the recession. "It's actually kind of surprising," said one senior agency executive. "It's one of the highest CPMs [cost-per-thousand viewers] in all of sports," said one buyer, estimating a CPM of $150 or more for men 21 to 34 and approximately $30 on a household basis.
"It's a challenge but we're getting through it," Bogusz said. The pace of sales is slower than last year, given the recession, he said. The strategy for selling the remaining spots will be to leverage the "handful" of units that remain in each of the Final Four and championship games to sell the spots still available in the earlier rounds as well.
While the broadcast sales are flat, the network's online March Madness On Demand video-streaming service will grow significantly this year in both audience and ad revenue, said Bogusz, estimating the level of growth for both of those metrics in the high-teen or low-20 percent range. Last year the online service had approximately 4.8 million unique viewers and generated $23 million in ad revenue. A 20 percent audience gain would bump viewership to 5.8 million while a 20 percent spurt in ad revenue would take that total to almost $28 million.
This year the network struck a deal with Microsoft to enhance the quality of the video for the tournament via Microsoft's Silverlight technology.